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New Grand Forks School Superintendent Terry Brenner ready to take the helm

In a few months, Terry Brenner will assume the role of superintendent of Grand Forks Public Schools, taking over for Larry Nybladh, who is retiring June 30.

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Terry Brenner will succeed Larry Nybladh as superintendent of Grand Forks Public Schools. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

In a few months, Terry Brenner will assume the role of superintendent of Grand Forks Public Schools, taking over for Larry Nybladh, who is retiring June 30.

Brenner will be the leader, but said he sees himself more precisely as a colleague on a team whose members all are necessary to providing excellent education to the children of Grand Forks.

"Decisions will be made collaboratively and collectively-not by one person behind a closed door," he said. "Everyone will be involved."

In preparing for his new job, Brenner has developed a 90-day entrance plan, outlining phases of work he'll do to transition into the role. They include listening, learning, synthesizing information and leading.

"I enter this role totally respectful of Dr. Nybladh and his final four months on the job," he said.

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Brenner will focus on "building a more positive and inclusive work environment and work climate," he said, "and enhance the superintendent's visibility and increase the superintendent's accountability.

"That's just me; that's not to say anything about who I'm following. This is my style."

Brenner plans to visit with staff members at all of the schools.

"Even though I've worked in the district for 23 years, there are things I don't know that I believe people would want me to know," he said.

He also hopes to learn about the challenges and urgent issues, as well as what makes working for the district enjoyable.

Since the school district is "locked into a budget in which 86 to 87 percent is for compensation," the task becomes "taking that remaining 13 to 14 percent of the budget and massaging that and taking those line items, zeroing them out and identifying what's most important to our district," he said.

"There are things we do that are not required by the state, but they've become part of the cultural norm. How do we pay for that?"

District stakeholders will have to determine the highest priorities, he said.

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Brenner has proposed assembling an advisory committee of 15 to 22 teachers, who would meet four times a year to provide input on issues of concern.

Working with the School Board, he's also focused on "creating opportunities for two-way conversations" with residents about their neighborhood schools.

The change in superintendency also would be a good time to update the district's strategic plan, Brenner said.

"It's probably lived a year or two beyond its original purpose," he said.

School facilities

About recent discussions concerning school facilities and the possibility of closing one or more schools in the future, Brenner said he doesn't have any anticipated outcomes.

"We're far from implementing any of those recommendations" made by JLG Architects to the district's facilities committee, he said.

"There's more work to be done, more conversations-neighborhood conversations-to be conducted, again, soliciting input from all our stakeholder groups," he said. "We need to take a couple of years and listen to the voices of people.

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"We may find that all our neighborhoods support neighborhood schools," he said. But if the community as a whole doesn't support neighborhood schools, "then we have a dichotomy we need to bridge."

Brenner sees student safety as a multi-pronged issue "we can never do enough" to address, he said.

Focusing more attention on students' mental health is a long-term, compelling challenge, Brenner said, and staff undergo at least eight hours of training every two years.

The training helps staff members to recognize key behaviors "that indicate something is not right," he said.

Brenner has proposed assembling a bullying task force, consisting of 15 to 22 middle and high school students.

Hiring another resource officer for middle schools will be considered at the School Board's April 9 meeting, he said.

Experience, knowledge, skill

With 27 years' school administration experience, Brenner brings abundant knowledge and skills to his new position.

Since 2008, he has served as the district's director of curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional development.

Before that, the Devils Lake native was director of school leadership for one year for the United Arab Emirates.

From 1990 to 2007, he served as an elementary principal in Devils Lake and Grand Forks.

The UND graduate started his career as a special education teacher, helping students with hearing impairment.

Brenner is married to Babbie Brenner, an English Language paraprofessional at Red River High School. They have a son, Tate, 8.

Related Topics: GRAND FORKS PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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